Thursday, August 05, 2010

Tested by fire

James Ellroy calls himself "The White Knight of the Far Right," and Dominique Manotti is a woman of intellectual heft on the left, a lecturer in economic history and the author of crime fiction that dissects French society high and low, with a cool eye for the ruthlessness of the former and the helplessness of the latter.

Sometimes, though, their concerns converge. Here's a bit from Ellroy's White Jazz, with the forewarning that this passage is written in the style of a 1958 Los Angeles scandal sheet, with the L.A. City Council about to uproot poor Mexicans to make room for the Dodgers' new baseball stadium:
"Diggsville: The California State Bureau of Land and Way is granting shack dwellers $10,500 per family relocation expenses, roughly 1/2 the cost of a slipshod, slapdash slum pad in such colorful locales as Watts, Willowbrook and Boyle Heights. The Bureau is also enterprisingly examining dervishly developed dump dives preferred by rapaciously rapid real estate developers: would-be Taco Terraces and Enchilada Estates where Burrito Bandits bounced from shamefully sheltered Chavez Ravine could live in jerry-rigged slum splendor, frolicking to fleabag firetrap fandangos!" (Boldface is mine.)
And here's a bit from Manotti's unsubtly titled short story "Ethnic Cleansing" from the Paris Noir collection published by Serpent's Tail:
"By 6 a.m., in the building where the fire's still smouldering, only a few bodies are left, along with the fire-fighters still battling the flames and drowning what's left of the squat under gallons of water. According to the police bulletin, 123 people were living in this squat, seven are dead and fifteen others injured ... 101 people are in the municipal sports centre where identity checks are being carried out. The plan is to escort any illegal immigrants to the border and rehouse those whose papers are in order. The investigation should establish whether the fire is of criminal or accidental origin.

"TWO YEARS LATER


"A twelve-story steel and glass structure hugs the curve of the A86 motorway slip road ... The tragedy that took place here two years ago is on everyone's mind, he was thinking. Granted, the police investigation concluded it was an accident following a fight between dealers who had broken into the basement of the squat ... Granted, the city council rehoused all the legal immigrants. But not locally, not together, a long way from Paris ... "

Not so different from the Ellroy, is it?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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15 Comments:

Blogger walls2canvas said...

I haven't heard burrito bandit in a while, but how could he not work "greaser" in? I used to hear "burrito-eater greaser" as a kid.
Funny thing is that the razing and gentrification is ever-present in LA. Mostly white hipsters are overrunning taco terraces & Enchilada Estates. Also, I can't help but hear Danny DeVito's voice when reading this.
I also really like "intellectual heft on the left" and Dominique Manotti.

August 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for dropping in, and thanks for the kind words.

A crime writer and fellow blogger from L.A. wrote last year, I think it was, about a crackdown on taco trucks. Was that part of a gentrification drive? I don't know to what extent the novel reflects Los Angeles history, but Chavez Ravine would have had to be a giant of its kind when it came to uprooting residents.

I wonder if "greaser" became popular only after the time when the book is set, 1948. Ellroy is from L.A., so I presume he knows something about its slang.

An interesting sidelight is that of the novel's numerous interpolated fictional news reports, the ones from mainstream newspapers are vacuous and self-serving for the officials quotes. It's only these Hush Hush scandal-sheet reports that, in all their outrageous language, report what's really happening. Ellroy, of course, said he loved the scandal sheets when he was young. Maybe he found them the only sources for what was true, accurate and exciting.

August 06, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I was hesitating about buying "Affairs of State," by Manotti from the Book Depository as I wasn't sure I'd like her style.

But after reading this excerpt from her short story, I definitely like her writing style and will commit to buying the book. I certainly like her point of view and she did win a Dagger, after all, for a prior book.

August 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've read and been impressed by Manotti's "Lorraine Connection" and "Rough Trade."

It's good that you like her writing style. The choppy style can put some readers off, though I think it enhances the deadpan effect that works well with the sorts of shccking actions she has the characters perform. It increases the effect through understatement.

August 06, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

If what I read here is an example of Minotto books, then I don't consider it choppy. I was thinking (when I heard of this) that it was staccoto with a few words, then an exclamation point or period.

But this is fine.

August 06, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

“Chavez Ravine would have had to be a giant of its kind when it came to uprooting residents.” Not far behind was the ousting of L.A.’s original, 19th century “Chinatown” inhabitants to make way for 1939’s Union Station. “New Chinatown” is nearby, located to the north. It is typical of Los Angeles’ invention/reinvention character that the city’s best South Carolina BBQ joint, Spring Street BBQ, is located in Chinatown.

August 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not far behind was the ousting of L.A.’s original, 19th century “Chinatown” inhabitants to make way for 1939’s Union Station. “New Chinatown” is nearby, located to the north. It is typical of Los Angeles’ invention/reinvention character that the city’s best South Carolina BBQ joint, Spring Street BBQ, is located in Chinatown.

I don't imagine the old Chinatown's residents were given much in the way of consideration, compensation or good, hard truth back in the 1930s.

Not so long ago here in Philadelphia, there was agitation for a new stadium to be built in Chinatown. A columnist here, if I recall correctly, scolded Chinatown residents for blocking progress.

The idea of plunking down a stadium smack in the middle of a densely populated area was obvious madness, and the stadium was built elsewhere. Perhaps times had changes since the 1930s and '50s.

If you should happen to read "White Jazz," I'd be curious to hear your take on Ellroy's take on Chavez Ravine's development. It's a subplot and an interesting background to the main action. Ellroy, as you may know, goes in for what some consider paranoia, but his Chavez Ravine scenario seems plausibe, particularly the attitudes of the people involved.

August 06, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

If anything, the taco truck phenomenon has only expanded. SoCal has moved on from suspect, take-your-health-chances vendors only to any kind of cuisine on wheels. The Spring St. BBQ joint I mentioned has its own truck. From donuts to every kind of niche ethnic food imaginable, there is a truck out there somewhere. Tours available. Follow us on Facebook, etc.

The attempted and foiled crackdown was not about gentrification--the taco truck craze was fostered by many Hollywood celebrities--but rather by storefront restaurants that resent (I think somewhat rightfully) that vending trucks take away from their sales and by LA's city council. The latter, under perpetual pressure to keep that revenue stream flowing, has been hard-pressed to find out a way to collect food vending fees, permits, surcharges, etc. etc. from traveling food vendors. Here today, somewhere else tomorrow.

Ouch, I meant the inhabitants of the original 19th c. Chinatown, not Chinatown's original 19th c. inhabitants...

August 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That makes sense.

Dennis from the P&P tells me that San Francisco has at least one truck that sells escargot prepared the way it ought to be. No way am I eating snails, but the truck might have other items of interest on its menu not normally associated with food trucks.

August 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I recently attended a workshop led by one of Dominique Manotti's English translators. She said rendering Manotti's style convincingly, with its occasional choppy texture and incomplete sentences, was one of challenges.

August 07, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, incomplete sentences, horrors. I assume the translator did what? Went with them or fixed them? One wouldn't want to change a writing style, especially of an award-winning author.

A seque to this: has anyone here read "Woman from Bratislava"?

August 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, the translator tried to preserve Manotti's style. What she meant by calling her task a challenge, I think, was simply that the distinctive texture and pacing of Manotti's writing magnified the importance of capturing its feeling as well as the meaning.

I have not read "Woman From Bratislava"; I come up short in the Danish crime fiction department, I'm afraid. I did recently read an enthusiastic review of the book, though, so I shall keep it in mind.

August 08, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Sorry, didn't mean to be Anonymous.

My respect for translators has soared since paying particular attention to Sian Reynolds' translations of Fred Vargas' books, and reading an interview with her about the things she has to take into account: idioms, adages, U.K. vs. U.S. language, and more.

I am definitely getting "Affairs of State," by Manotti from the Book Depository.

August 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, if you're interested in translation, here's an interview I did with Mike Mitchell, translator of the great Swiss crime writer Friedrich Glauser. And here is an excellent group question-and-answer session that Crime Time magazine conducted with a number of translators a few years ago.

August 08, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Thanks. Will do.

August 09, 2010  

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